Sichuan or Szechwan (sŭˈchwänˈ) [key] [four rivers], province (2010 pop. 80,418,200), c.220,000 sq mi (569,800 sq km), SW China. The capital is Chengdu. A naturally isolated region surrounded by mountains, Sichuan is accessible to the rest of China by the Chang River, which flows through the south and receives several large tributaries, notably the Min, the Juo, and the Jialing. The spectacular gorges found along the eastern part of the Chang make it difficult to navigate to Chongqing, the chief provincial port. Transportation, formerly limited to the turbulent rivers, has been greatly expanded since the 1950s; railroads now connect Chengdu with Chongqing and Sichuan with Shaanxi and Yunnan provs., and the road network has been improved and expanded since the 1980s.
Central Sichuan is generally a rough plateau that is called the Red Basin because of its red sandstone formation. The basin includes the fertile, densely populated Chengdu Plain (c.1,700 sq mi/4,400 sq km), the only large, level area in the province; however, extensive terracing adds much cultivated land, and with a hot, humid climate, adequate rainfall, effective irrigation systems, and fertile soil, two harvests a year are usual. Sichuan, the "rice bowl" of China, is the country's leading rice producer. Sugarcane, potatoes, citrus fruits, wheat, corn, sugar beets, sweet potatoes, and beans are also grown. Sichuan is a major cotton producer; other economic crops include ramie (in which the province ranks second in production), hemp, medicinal herbs, tea, and oilseed. About 20% of the province is forested, and tung oil is a major export. Silk, grown on both mulberry and oak trees, is still produced; Sichuan was once famous for its Shu brocades and Ba satins. In the western areas (formerly Xikang prov.), there is much grazing land, and the province's cattle and pig populations are the largest in the country. Other livestock raised are yaks, horses, sheep, and goats. Salt has been mined since ancient times; other mineral resources include oil, natural gas, coal, iron, copper, lead, zinc, aluminum, platinum, gold, nickel, asbestos, and phosphorus. Sichuan has a variety of light and heavy industries, which are centered in Chengdu, Chongqing, Neijiang, Yibin, Wanxian, and Nanzhong. It also has a spacecraft launch facility near Xichang. The province has many ethnic groups; there are three large minority autonomous regions. Sichuan Univ. is in Chengdu.
Sichuan was often an independent kingdom. It was early a center of Thai culture; its Indian influence came in via the Myanmar-Yunnan trade route. The Chinese Communists controlled much of N Sichuan in the early 1930s, and the province served as a refuge during the long march. In the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45), Sichuan was the temporary center of Nationalist China. Xikang prov. E of the Chang was added in 1955 to Sichuan, nearly doubling its area. In 2008 N central Sichuan experienced a devastating earthquake in which more than 90,000 died.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.